EDITORIAL | Keep eyes on the road and off your phones

We all know that texting on a mobile phone whilst driving a car is illegal.

Yet how many of us can honestly say, hand over heart, that as drivers we have never (not even once) acted on the temptation to quickly look at or respond to a new message after hearing the  ‘ping’ of a smart phone signal its arrival. If you’ve ever read or sent a text message while driving, the reality is you have risked your safety and the safety of other road users.

In Leumeah on Friday night, the lives of two police officers setting up an RBT unit were forever altered when a young motorist ploughed his vehicle into them whilst allegedly using his mobile phone.

The tragedy was headline news across the country and has put mobile phone use in cars firmly back in the spotlight.

NSW Police commissioner Mick Fuller doesn’t believe existing penalties, which see offenders typically cop a $330 fine and lose four demerit points, are tough enough.

Given that 50,000 people were caught texting or using their phones whilst driving last year, he’s got a point and greater deterrents are probably part of the answer.

What’s also needed however is a big-bucks, multi-faceted public education campaign just like that used to shift community attitudes on drink-driving.

There was a time when it was socially acceptable to drink and drive.

Not anymore. Today, thanks to a sustained public awareness programs and police enforcement measures like RBT,  it’s become a frowned-upon social taboo.

The ‘don’t drink and drive’ message drilled into us year after year, has largely got through. Friends take keys away from mates who’ve been drinking. We appoint a designated driver when we go out. And, if that plan goes awry, we catch a Uber home rather than risk it.

“I would never drive a car if I was over the limit,” a journalist in our office emphatically declared this week.

A similar cultural shift is needed towards mobile phone use in cars. Our roads are becoming increasingly busy and concentration is needed to avoid tragedies.

Drivers need to accept (and believe) that distraction caused by texting and scrolling through phones is as dangerous and irresponsible as drink driving.

Until that happens news reports about crashes involving mobile phone use will remain all too common.

                                           - Editor Roma Dickins